U.S. News


Texas Museum Honors WWII Female Air Force Pilots

Women Air Force pilots started flying in 1943. Now, their history is on display at the National Women Airforce Service Pilots World War II Museum.
Posted at 9:20 PM, Mar 15, 2022

Not officially enlisted at first, women have served in the U.S. Army since 1775. In the 18th century, women tended to the wounded, washed and mended clothing, and cooked for male troops. But flying in the Air Force? That wasn't until World War II. 

Today, 16% of the military are now women.

In Sweetwater, Texas, is a spot that paved the way for women. 

"For me, equality is equal access," said Women Airforce Service Pilots Museum Executive Director Lisa Taylor. "This is not a time for women to be shy — they are our greatest weapon, we need to use them."

Women Air Force pilots started flying in 1943. Now, their history is on display at the National WASP World War II Museum. 

"This was the gate that was at the entrance to Aviation Enterprises, to Avenger Field. It's where every woman would have to pass," Taylor continued. "When World War II came, there was a shortage of male pilots. It took a lot of convincing, but finally, Jacqueline Cochran and Nancy Love convinced them that women were up to the task. The program only lasted two years. But the impact was a lifetime."

The women would have to pay their own way to Texas.

"When these women came out as pilots, I mean, it put them in the foreground," Taylor said. 

On top of that, they would pay their own room and board, no insurance. 

"One of my favorite stories is a WASP who was named Hazel Ying Lee. She had to do an emergency landing in a farmer's field not too far from here. And when she landed in that field, she got out and walked around, and she was OK. And about that time the farmer and his family rolled up in their car. And he looks at her and he says, 'Are you Japanese? Or are you a tiny gal?' She had to do some talking but she convinced him that she was an American, a Chinese American who was at Avenger field training and that that's where she belonged."

November 10, 1944, Ying Lee received military orders to head to Great Falls, Montana. Her plane collided with another after a control tower error. Lee was killed, but she didn't receive a military funeral. "Because they weren't military," Taylor said. "And so these ladies came on their own dime, and they came from all parts of the country."

These women were part of the "greatest generation," an honor way overdue. 

"No one should be discriminated against," Taylor said.